This study considers the interannual variability in the advection of sandeel (Ammodytes marinus) larvae on the north-west European shelf. We use recently collated data on spawning location, age of larvae and the time of hatching (between 1955 and 1993) as input to a particle-tracking model. Utilizing hourly currents from a 39 year run of a two-dimensional sea circulation model, cohorts of sandeel larvae were represented as a distribution of particles in space and time, and particle drift was calculated for the larval life stage. The final distributions of particles were compared with actual distributions of 0-group sandeels in the North Sea, as determined from surveys conducted at around the end of the larval phase. Preliminary examination of the data between 1973 and 1993 indicates that differences in predicted drift could explain some of the large interannual variability in 0-group distributions. This approach may help to improve our understanding of the frequent colonization events that are typical of this species.