In response to most stressors, fish will elicit a generalized physiological stress response, which involves the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis (HPI). As in other vertebrates, this generalized stress response comprises physiological responses that are common to a wide range of environmental, physical and biological stressors. Recently, several families of heat shock proteins (hsps) have been proposed as indicators of a generalized stress response at the cellular level. Recent findings that hsp levels, in various fish tissues, respond to a wide range of stressors have supported the use of these proteins as indicators of stressed states in fish. However, the cellular stress response can vary, for example, according to tissue, hsp family and type of stressor. This brief overview of these responses in fish asks the question of whether changes in levels and families of hsps can be used as a suitable indicator of stressed states in fish. By casting this question in the context of the well-established generalized physiological stress response in fish, we argue that the use of hsps as indicators of stressed states in fish in general is premature.