Presently there are no legally registered fish anesthetics that allow for the release of fish or use of the fish for food soon after they have been anesthetized. MS-222 (tricaine), the only anesthetic registered for use on fish in the United States, cannot be used within 21 d of harvesting the fish for food. As the start in a search for an anesthetic that can be used with little or no withdrawal period, we tested the efficacy of 16 chemicals as anesthetics on rainbow trout Salmo gairdneri. Efficacy was defined by the fish (1) becoming handleable (quiet enough to be manipulated and handled readily) in 3 min or less, (2) recovering in 10 min or less, and (3) showing no mortality after 15 min in the anesthetic solution. Four chemicals--MS-222, quinaldine sulfate, benzocaine, and 2-phenoxyethanol--met these criteria for efficacy. Chemicals that yielded excessive induction or recovery times or caused excessive mortality were methylpentynol, chlorobutanol, etomidate, metomidate, Piscaine, propanidid, carbon dioxide, nicotine, salt, Halothane, Metofane, and Biotal. Because carbon dioxide leaves no residues and requires no withdrawal period, it may be an acceptable alternative for fishery workers who can tolerate somewhat shallower anesthesia and longer induction and recovery times.