It has been reported that Atlantic tomcod (Microgadus tomcod) from the Hudson River exhibit an extremely high incidence of liver tumors. More than 90% of spawning 2-year-old fish display hepatocellular carcinomas. In contrast, representatives of this species from a relatively pristine environment show a much lower incidence of tumors. Genomic DNA and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) were isolated from tomcod from the Hudson River, New York, and the Saco River and Royal River, Maine. We found a statistically significant difference in the frequency ofPstI-generated restriction fragment length polymorphisms in theabl cellular oncogene between Hudson and Maine tomcod. Allelic variation was observed at two of the threeabl domains scored. A single composite genotype seen in approximately 40% of Hudson River fish was seen in only one Maine fish. This polymorphism enabled us to differentiate a Hudson River population from that encountered in the Maine rivers. This is the first demonstration of a population-specific polymorphism at a cellular oncogene locus in any species. In contrast, no restriction site polymorphisms were seen in mtDNA between the populations. The lack of mtDNA diversity in these fish is consistent with the geological history of the area. In combination, these results suggest that the genetic diversity observed at the c-abl oncogene locus must have been a fairly recent event and that oncogene loci may be particularly sensitive to mutational change.