During the past decade, the culture of air-breathing fish species has increased dramatically and is now a significant global source of protein for human consumption. This development has generated a need for specific information on how to maximize growth and minimize the environmental effect of culture systems. Here, the existing data on metabolism in air-breathing fishes are reviewed, with the aim of shedding new light on the oxygen requirements of air-breathing fishes in aquaculture, reaching the conclusion that aquatic oxygenation is much more important than previously assumed. In addition, the possible effects on growth of the recurrent exposure to deep hypoxia and associated elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide, ammonia and nitrite, that occurs in the culture ponds used for air-breathing fishes, are discussed. Where data on air-breathing fishes are simply lacking, data for a few water-breathing species will be reviewed, to put the physiological effects into a growth perspective. It is argued that an understanding of air-breathing fishes' respiratory physiology, including metabolic rate, partitioning of oxygen uptake from air and water in facultative air breathers, the critical oxygen tension, can provide important input for the optimization of culture practices. Given the growing importance of air breathers in aquaculture production, there is an urgent need for further data on these issues.