Since the 1980s, a 90% decline in recruitment of European eel, Anguilla anguilla (L.), has occurred across most of Europe. Whether the continental stock has equally declined is uncertain. This study compiles available landings statistics since the beginning of the 20th century and identifies trends over time and space, using a statistical model that takes varying levels of reporting into account. Landings in the pre-1940s reached over 40 000 tonnes yr−1, declined during World War II, rose to a peak of 40 000 tonnes yr−1 in the 1960s (coincident with a peak in re-stocking) and dropped to an all time low of <20 000 tonnes yr−1 in the 1990s. The decline in recruitment since the early 1980s was preceded by a decline in landings two or more decades earlier, indicating a decline of the continental stock. Considering the continental stock and the spawning stock must have declined in parallel, insufficient spawning stock biomass might have caused the recruitment collapse currently observed.