The gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta) intestine secretes base mainly in the form of HCO3- via apical anion exchange to serve Cl- and water absorption for osmoregulatory purposes. Luminal HCO3- secretion rates measured by pH-stat techniques in Ussing chambers rely on oxidative energy metabolism and are highly temperature sensitive. At 25 degrees C under in vivo-like conditions, secretion rates averaged 0.45 micromol x cm(-2) x h(-1), of which 0.25 micromol x cm(-2) x h(-1) can be accounted for by hydration of endogenous CO2 partly catalyzed by carbonic anhydrase. Complete polarity of secretion of HCO3- and H+ arising from the CO2 hydration reaction is evident from equal rates of luminal HCO3- secretion via anion exchange and basolateral H+ extrusion. When basolateral H+ extrusion is partly inhibited by reduction of serosal pH, luminal HCO3- secretion is reduced. Basolateral H+ secretion occurs in exchange for Na+ via an ethylisopropylamiloride-insensitive mechanism and is ultimately fueled by the activity of the basolateral Na+-K+-ATPase. Fluid absorption by the toadfish intestine to oppose diffusive water loss to the concentrated marine environment is accompanied by a substantial basolateral H+ extrusion, intimately linking osmoregulation and acid-base balance.