Primary productivity in the water column was measured 14 times between April 1985 and April 1986 at three sites in Tomales Bay, California, USA The conditions at these three stations encompassed the range of hydrographic conditions, phytoplankton biomass, phytoplankton community composition, and turbidity typical of this coastal embayment. Linear regression of the measured daily carbon uptake against the composite parameter B Zp Io (where B is the average phytoplankton biomass in the photic zone; Zp is the photic depth; and Io is the daily surface insolation) indicates that 90% of the variability in primary productivity is explained by variations in phytoplankton biomass and light availability. The linear function derived using Tomales Bay data is essentially the same as that which explains more than 80% of the variation in productivity in four other estuarine systems. Using the linear function and measured values for B, Zp, and Io, the daily photic-zone productivity was estimated for 10 sites at monthly intervals over the annual period. The average daily photic-zone productivity for the 10 sites ranged from 0??2 to 2??2 g C m-2. The bay-wide average annual primary productivity in the water column was 400 g C m-2, with most of the uptake occuring in spring and early summer. Spatial and temporal variations in primary productivity were similar to variations in phytoplankton biomass. Productivity was highest in the seaward and central regions of the bay and lowest in the shallow landward region. ?? 1989.