We examined the spatial and temporal variations of coastal and oceanic epipelagic copepods (rainy–dry seasons of 2009) in a tropical area of the south-west Atlantic. Zooplankton samples were obtained at 48 stations along six transects perpendicular to the coast, in the subsurface water between the 25 and 3000 m isobaths, by horizontal hauls using a Multinet. Abundance (42–64,753 ind. m−3), biomass (0.08–113 mg C m−3) and daily copepod production (0.17–163.20 mg C m−3 d−1) showed longitudinal and latitudinal variability. The highest values were observed over the southern continental shelf during the dry season. Temoridae, Undinula vulgaris and Paracalanus quasimodo dominated the biomass and daily copepod production during the rainy season; while Calanoides carinatus, Calanopia americana, Clausocalanidae, Temoridae, Paracalanidae and Subeucalanidae dominated during the dry season. The copepod assemblages formed four different groups: rainy season–continental shelf (1), dry season–continental shelf (2), rainy season–continental slope (3) and dry season–continental slope (4). Temperature, salinity, chlorophyll-a and suspended particulate matter explained 45% of the productivity distribution of the dominant copepod species. This study is the first attempt to examine the biomass and daily copepod production in oceanic waters in the south-west Atlantic Ocean, and it showed that copepod biomass and production in a tropical region can be relatively high compared with other regions of the world's oceans.