This paper establishes the spawning habitat of the Brazilian sardine Sardinella brasiliensis and investigates the spatial variability of egg density and its relation with oceanographic conditions in the shelf of the south-east Brazil Bight (SBB). The spawning habitats of S. brasiliensis have been defined in terms of spatial models of egg density, temperature–salinity plots, quotient (Q) analysis and remote sensing data. Quotient curves (QC) were constructed using the geographic distribution of egg density, temperature and salinity from samples collected during nine survey cruises between 1976 and 1993. The interannual sea surface temperature (SST) variability was determined using principal component analysis on the SST anomalies (SSTA) estimated from remote sensing data over the period between 1985 and 2007. The spatial pattern of egg occurrences in the SBB indicated that the largest concentration occurred between Paranaguá and São Sebastião. Spawning habitat expanded and contracted during the years, fluctuating around Paranaguá. In January 1978 and January 1993, eggs were found nearly everywhere along the inner shelf of the SBB, while in January 1988 and 1991 spawning had contracted to their southernmost position. The SSTA maps for the spawning periods showed that in the case of habitat expansion (1993 only) anomalies over the SBB were zero or slightly negative, whereas for the contraction period anomalies were all positive. Sardinella brasiliensis is capable of exploring suitable spawning sites provided by the entrainment of the colder and less-saline South Atlantic Central Water onto the shelf by means of both coastal wind-driven (to the north-east of the SBB) and meander-induced (to the south-west of the SBB) upwelling.