Occurrence of Flavobacterium psychrophilum in fish farms and fish-farming environments was studied using agar plate cultivation,the immunoflourescence antibody technique (IFAT) and nested PCR. Characteristics of 64 F. psychrophilum isolates from rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss, fish farm rearing water, ovarian fluid and wild fish were serotyped, ribotyped and compared biochemically. Virulence of F. psychrophilum isolates from different sources was compared by injection into rainbow trout. Additionally, the number of F. psychrophilum cells shed by naturally infected rainbow trout was determined. F. psychrophilum was detected and isolated from skin mucus, skin lesions and internal organs of diseased rainbow trout and from fish without clinical disease. The pathogen was also present in wild perch Perca fluviatilis, roach Rutilus rutilus, and ovarian fluids of farmed rainbow trout brood fish. Isolates were biochemically homogenous, excluding the capability to degrade elastin. Five different agglutination patterns with different antisera against F. psychrophilum were found among the isolates studied. Although several different ribopatterns were found (ClaI: 12 ribopatterns and HaeIII: 9 ribopatterns), ribotype A was the most dominant. Farmed rainbow trout brood fish carried a broad-spectrum of serologically and genetically different F. psychrophilum in ovarian fluids. Virulence of the tested isolates in rainbow trout varied and naturally infected rainbow trout shed 104 to 108 cells fish-1 h-1 of F. psychrophilum into the surrounding water.