The exposure to and effects of estrogenic compounds in male breams from Dutch freshwater locations were investigated. Ovotestis was observed infrequently (maximum frequency 16%). However, plasma vitellogenin (VTG) concentration was elevated highly at some locations. Estrogenic activities in male bream plasma, liver, and in gastrointestinal content were measured in the estrogen-responsive chemical-activated luciferase gene expression (ER-CALUX®) assay. Plasma concentrations of vitellogenin correlated very well with the estrogenic activities in gastrointestinal content. The ER-CALUX activity in gastrointestinal content thus could provide a biomarker for recent exposure to estrogenic compounds, and the gastrointestinal content was chosen as investigative matrix for the toxicity identification and evaluation ([TIE]; bioassay-directed fractionation) of estrogenic compounds in bream. The approach consisted of a reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography fractionation of gastrointestinal content extract, directed by ER-CALUX and followed by gas chromatography analysis. The estrogenic hormones 17β-estradiol and its metabolite estrone were identified as major contributors to the activity at all locations (except the reference location), independent of the presence or absence of a known source of estrogenic activity, such as a sewage treatment plant. Chemical screening showed the presence of other pollutants, such as a lower chlorinated dioxin and the disinfectants clorophene and triclosan. However, these compounds did not have high estrogenic potencies and their concentrations were not high enough to contribute significantly to the observed estrogenic activity. © 2007 SETAC.