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This 2 year study examined the reproductive cycle of wild female Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta in western Norway as a precursor to captive breeding trials. Light microscopy of ovarian histology was used to stage gonad maturity and enzyme-linked immuno-absorbent assay (ELISA) to measure plasma concentrations of the sex steroids testosterone (T) and 17-oestradiol (E2). Ovarian recrudescence began in late autumn to early winter with the growth of previtellogenic oocytes and the formation of cortical alveoli. Vitellogenic oocytes developed from January to June and ovaries containing postovulatory follicles (POF) were present between May and June. These POF occurred simultaneously among other late maturity stage oocytes. Plasma steroid concentration and organo-somatic indices increased over winter and spring. Maximal (mean ±s.e.) values of plasma T (0·95 ± 0·26 ng ml−1), E2 (1·75 ± 0·43 ng ml−1) and gonado-somatic index (IG; 10·71 ± 0·81) occurred in April and May and decreased greatly in July when only postspawned fish with atretic ovaries occurred. Evidence indicates that L. bergylta are group-synchronous multiple spawners with spawning occurring in spring and peaking in May. A short resting period may occur between late summer and autumn when previtellogenic oocytes predominate and steroid levels are minimal.