The spatial distribution of eggs and larvae of three pelagic species, mackerel, horse mackerel and sardine, in the Bay of Biscay was studied in 1998, 2001 and 2004. The spatial distribution was clearly different between the years studied and corresponds quite precisely to different water circulation regimes. Mackerel and horse mackerel larvae are more affected by the prevailing currents than sardine, as their spawning grounds are located offshore, far from the shelf break where the current velocities are higher. Survival rates for mackerel and horse mackerel were higher in 2001, when the offshore larval transport was stronger. However, for sardine, the mortality rate hardly varied between years. The abundance of 25-day-old larvae, considered as an index of the survival rate, appears to be a good recruitment indicator, at least for 1998, 2001 and 2004. Our results did not support the hypothesis of Bakun (1996), which states that dispersion of early life stages towards open ocean waters should cause high larval mortality. At least under the conditions observed for the years studied, the retention of larvae offshore appears to have a positive effect on larval growth and/or survival.