The Antarctic silverfish Pleuragramma antarcticum Boulenger is the dominant fish species in the high Antarctic zone, playing a key role in the Ross Sea midwater shelf ecosystem. Unlike other notothenioids, it is holoplanktonic species, spending its entire life cycle in the water column. Early life stages of P. antarcticum are generally found in the upper 200 m and their spatial distribution is largely affected by water masses and general circulation. To understand better the mechanisms involved in the geographical distribution of the Antarctic silverfish within the western Ross Sea, an analysis of abundance and distribution was carried out in relation to oceanographic conditions. Samples were collected in summer during the 1998, 2000 and 2004 Italian cruises, covering the majority of the western sector of the Ross Sea. Overall 127 stations were sampled using standard plankton nets for biological samples and CTD and XBT to record abiotic parameters. Although all surveys were in December–January, the yearly results differed in terms of relative abundance of larval developmental stages and of oceanographic characteristics. The 1997–98 samples were characterized by very low abundance overall and by the virtual absence of early larvae. In summers 1999–2000 and 2003–04 the abundance of P. antarcticum was one order of magnitude higher than in the earlier season. In 1999–2000 catches were mainly composed of pre-flexion larvae and late postlarvae, while in 2003–04 catches were made up of pre-flexion larvae and juveniles. In January 2000 the Ross Sea summer polynya was fully open as the pack ice was almost completely melted, whereas in January 1998 and 2004 the opening of the polynya was considerably delayed. As a consequence, a delay in phytoplankton blooms and a decrease in primary production were observed in the summer seasons 1998 and 2004 with respect to 2000. The spatial distribution of early life stages, that were confined to the continental shelf and shelf break of the Ross Sea, generally appeared to be positively influenced by transition zones (oceanographic fronts). In addition, most of catches were recorded on or in close proximity to the banks (Pennell, Mawson, Ross and Crary) that characterize the continental shelf of the Ross Sea. On the basis of present findings and literature data, a link between the general circulation in the western Ross Sea and the distribution pattern of the early life stages of P. antarcticum has been developed.