Apparent astaxanthin (3,3'-dihydroxy-beta,beta-carotene-4,4'-dione) digestibility coefficients (ADC) and carotenoid compositions of the muscle, liver, whole kidney and plasma were compared in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and Atlantic halibut (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) fed a diet supplemented with 66 mg astaxanthin kg(-1) dry matter for 112 days. The astaxanthin source consisted of 75% all-E-, 3% 9Z- and 22% 13Z-astaxanthin, of (3R,3'R)-, (3R,3'S; meso)-, and (3S,3'S)-astaxanthin in a 1:2:1 ratio. The ADC of astaxanthin was significantly higher in Atlantic halibut than in Atlantic salmon after 56 and 112 days of feeding (P < 0.05). The ADC of all-E-astaxanthin was significantly higher than ADC of 9Z-astaxanthin (P < 0.05). Considerably more carotenoids were present in all plasma and tissue samples of salmon than in halibut. Retention of astaxanthin in salmon muscle was 3.9% in salmon and 0 in halibut. All-E-astaxanthin accumulated selectively in the muscle of salmon, and in plasma of salmon and halibut compared with diet. 13Z-astaxanthin accumulated selectively in liver and whole kidney of salmon and halibut, when compared with plasma. A reductive pathway for astaxanthin metabolism in halibut similar to that of salmon was shown by the presence of 3',4'-cis and trans glycolic isomers of idoxanthin (3,3',4'-trihydroxy-beta,beta-carotene-4'-one) in plasma, liver and whole kidney. In conclusion, the higher ADC of astaxanthin in halibut than Atlantic salmon may be explained by lower feed intake in halibut, and the lower retention of astaxanthin by a higher capacity to transform astaxanthin metabolically.