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The major inorganic and organic osmolytes responsible for hydrating the oocytes during pre-ovulatory meiotic maturation in autumn- and spring-spawning stocks of Atlantic herring are examined. Despite the ovulated eggs of spring-spawning herring being 1.6- to 2-fold larger than the autumn-spawning stock, the GSI (27 ± 3%) and degree of oocyte hydration (70–72% water) were similar. Normalising the data with respect to dry mass revealed that the physiological mechanisms underlying the maturational influx of water were the same for both classes of egg. Cl-, K+ and Pi together with a small pool of free amino acids (FAA) represented the driving forces for oocyte hydration. K+ (autumn and spring) and Pi (spring) maintained their concentrations in the ovulated eggs, while all other ions, including Cl-, Na+, NH4+ and Mg2+ were significantly diluted. In contrast the FAA concentration increased during the hydration process. Amongst the inorganic ions, Cl- showed the greatest increase in the ovulated eggs. The FAA content doubled from 1.5 to 3.3% of dry mass during oocyte hydration and accounted for 29% of the calculated ovoplasmic osmolality in the ovulated eggs from both autumn- and spring-spawners. This significant osmotic effect of the small pool of FAA was due to the low water content of the benthic eggs. The differential movement of the inorganic and organic osmolytes that underly oocyte hydration in Atlantic herring are discussed in relation to current models of transmembrane ion flux.