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Abstract This study investigates the temporal correspondence between the main patterns of recruitment variations among north-east Atlantic exploited fish populations and large-scale climate and temperature indices. It is of primary importance to know what changes in fish stock productivity can be expected in response to climate change, to design appropriate management strategies. The dominant patterns of recruitment variation were extracted using a standardized principal component analysis (PCA). The first principal component (PC) was a long-term decline, with a stepwise change occurring in 1987. A majority of Baltic Sea, North Sea, west of Scotland and Irish Sea populations, especially the gadoids, have followed this decreasing trend. On the contrary, some herring populations and the populations of boreal ecosystems have followed an opposite increasing trend. The dominant signal in north-east Atlantic sea surface temperature, also extracted by a PCA, was highly correlated with the increase in the Northern Hemisphere Temperature anomaly, which is considered to be an index of global warming. The first component of recruitment was inversely correlated with these changes in regional and global temperature. The second PC of recruitment was a decadal scale oscillation, which was not correlated with climate indicators. The analysis of correlations between population recruitment and local temperature also indicated that the dominant pattern of recruitment variation may be related to an effect of global warming. The influence of fishing on recruitment, via its effect on the spawning stock biomass (SSB), was also investigated by the analysis of correlations between fishing mortality, SSB and recruitment. Results indicate that fishing can be another factor explaining recruitment trends, probably acting in combination with the effect of climate, but cannot explain alone the patterns of recruitment variation found here.