Mortality during the early stages is a major cause of the natural variations in the size and recruitment strength of marine fish populations. In this study, the relation between the size-at-hatch and early survival was assessed using laboratory experiments and on field-caught larvae of the European sardine (Sardina pilchardus). Larval size-at-hatch was not related to the egg size but was significantly, positively related to the diameter of the otolith-at-hatch. Otolith diameter-at-hatch was also significantly correlated with survival-at-age in fed and unfed larvae in the laboratory. For sardine larvae collected in the Bay of Biscay during the spring of 2008, otolith radius-at-hatch was also significantly related to viability. Larval mortality has frequently been related to adverse environmental conditions and intrinsic factors affecting feeding ability and vulnerability to predators. Our study offers evidence indicating that a significant portion of fish mortality occurs during the endogenous (yolk) and mixed (yolk /prey) feeding period in the absence of predators, revealing that marine fish with high fecundity, such as small pelagics, can spawn a relatively large amount of eggs resulting in small larvae with no chances to survive. Our findings help to better understand the mass mortalities occurring at early stages of marine fish.