Some species of fish are more tolerant of rotenone, a commonly used non-specific piscicide, than others. This species-specific tolerance to rotenone has been thought to be associated with the uptake and the efficiency at which the chemical is detoxified. However, rotenone stimulates oxidative stress and superoxides, which are also toxic. Understanding the modes in which fish physiologically respond to rotenone is important in developing improved protocols for its application in controlling aquatic nuisance species. Using a molecular approach, we investigated the physiological and molecular mechanisms of rotenone resistance. Species-specific responses were observed when rotenone-sensitive silver, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, and both rotenone-resistant bighead carp, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis, and bigmouth buffalo, Ictiobus cyprinellus, were exposed to rotenone. Rotenone levels in plasma were highest 90 min after exposure in both silver carp and bigmouth buffalo, but bigmouth buffalo tolerated over twice the burden (ng mL-1 g-1) than silver carp. Expression of genes related with detoxification (cyp1a and gst) increased in silver carp, but either decreased or remained the same in bighead carp. Genes linked with oxidative stress in the cytosol (gpx, cat and sod1) and hsp70 increased only in silver carp after a 6-h exposure. Expression of genes associated with oxidative stress in the mitochondria (sod2 and ucp2) differed between silver carp and bighead carp. Expression of sod2 changed minimally in bighead carp, but expression of ucp2 linearly increased to nearly 85-fold of the level prior to exposure. Expression of sod2 and ucp2 did not change until 6 h in silver carp. Use of sod1 and sod2 to combat oxidative stress results in hydrogen peroxide production, while use of ucp2 produces nitric oxide, a chemical known to inhibit apoptosis. We conclude that the mechanism at which a fish handles oxidative stress plays an important role in the tolerance to rotenone.