Fish otoliths are comprised primarily of CaCO3 and grow throughout an individual's lifetime. The chemical composition of otoliths is often a distinctive characteristic of the populations that live in discrete areas, and as a result, it has been used for population classification studies, supporting ecological and fisheries research. However, the deposition of chemical elements in the otolith is influenced by both physiological and environmental factors. We review observed trends in otolith elemental composition and then test the taxonomic and geographical patterns, using marine species in European waters. anova comparisons and multivariate analyses revealed strong taxonomic signals in species inhabiting the same region. Variations in Sr, Mg, Mn and Ba concentrations were most often species specific; for example, multivariate analyses showed separation of cod (Gadus morhua) and herring (Clupea harengus) based primarily on Mg and Sr concentrations, while Mn and Ba concentrations separated bluemouth (Helicolenus dactylopterus) and sole (Solea solea). The relative contributions of taxonomic and regional factors varied between elements. For cod and herring, for example, species-specific differences explain 75% of the variation for Mn, but only 50% of the variation in Sr. Although there are significant regional differences within a single species on both a restricted and extensive geographic scale, these regional patterns are not the same for each species. As the amount of otolith composition data increases, representing more species and regions, as well as longer time series, further analyses can provide a deeper insight into the predictability of using otolith data in fisheries ecology.