The Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) is economically one of the world's most important marine species––a species presently suffering from heavy overexploitation throughout its range of distribution. Although not fully understood, the Atlantic cod is believed to be structured into populations in a rather complex manner, whereby both highly migratory and more confined ocean–spawning stocks coexist with stationary coastal populations. Owing to the complex population structure, little is presently known about how overexploitation of offshore stocks may affect other segments of the species. Here, we use microsatellite DNA analyses of coastal and offshore cod in combination with oceanographic modelling to investigate the population structure of Atlantic cod in the North Sea–Skagerrak area and evaluate the potential for larval transport into coastal populations. Our results suggest an extensive but temporally variable drift of offshore cod larvae into coastal populations. In a year (2001) with high inflow of North Sea waters into the Skagerrak we find that juvenile cod caught along the Skagerrak coast are predominantly of North Sea origin, whereas in a year (2000) with low inflow juveniles appear to be of local origin. These findings indicate that offshore cod may influence coastal cod populations over large distances.