Maternal factors control development prior to the activation of the embryonic genome. In vertebrates, little is known about the molecular mechanisms by which maternal factors regulate embryonic development. To understand the processes controlled by maternal factors and identify key genes involved, we embarked on a maternal-effect mutant screen in the zebrafish. We identified 68 maternal-effect mutants. Here we describe 15 mutations in genes controlling processes prior to the midblastula transition, including egg development, blastodisc formation, embryonic polarity, initiation of cell cleavage, and cell division. These mutants exhibit phenotypes not previously observed in zygotic mutant screens. This collection of maternal-effect mutants provides the basis for a molecular genetic analysis of the maternal control of embryogenesis in vertebrates.