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The Galician shelf off NW Spain (43N° 9W°) exhibits mesoscale spatial and temporal changes in biological productivity associated with upwelling. Spatial heterogeneity results from local geomorphic and land‐sea interactions superimposed on the large scale atmospheric processes that produce upwelling. Wind‐induced upwelling events, commonly of short (i.e., week) duration, are more common in the summer than in the winter. A series of cruises, including some time series sampling, and satellite imagery analysis showed that surface upwelling was more common and persistent on the northern coast compared with the western coast off the coastal embayments, the Rias Bajas. Near shore off the rias, coastal runoff, which is greater in the rainy winter/spring versus the dry summer, affected upwelling. In early summer, upwelling less often reaches the surface because of increased water column stratification associated with lower surface salinities and thus upwelling is not detected by satellite imagery. Conversely, in late summer, upwelling more often reaches the surface because coastal runoff is reduced during the dry summer months and the water column tends to be less stratified. Plankton biomass and rate processes along the Galician shelf reflected both ambient hydrographic conditions as well as prior history of upwelling or downwelling. Phytoplankton and bacterioplankton were in greatest abundance during upwelling conditions (June through August); in contrast, both Zooplankton and fish larvae exhibited highest abundances in March, when there were upwelling conditions prior to our cruise. Spatial differences in the duration and frequency of upwelling events, in combination with advection of water masses, are critical to the patterns of water column productivity and sardine fisheries production off the Galician coast. More persistent upwelling at this NW corner of the Iberian peninsula supports large sardine fisheries because Zooplankton and larval fish populations have time to respond to the higher primary production. Farther down the western Galician coast, the episodic upwelling and resultant intermittent primary production does not support a stable food supply needed to support fisheries. Times series sampling revealed mean response times of bacteria, phytoplankton, and Zooplankton to be on the order of a day, days, and weeks, respectively. Sardines showed no spawning response in the relatively short time series sampling. The observed distributional patterns of fish eggs and larvae showed some offshore transport of fish larvae that were spawned inshore during upwelling periods and aggregation of larvae in a convergence zone northwest of Cabo Villano.