The European eel, Anguilla anguilla (L.), has a complex life history and many aspects of the biology and population dynamics of this species remain unknown or, at best, poorly understood. Relatively little is also known about the status of the stocks and fisheries, but available data suggest that recruitment of glass eels has been falling for the last 20 years and is at historically low levels. Yellow and silver eel catches have also been falling in many parts of the species range over a similar time-scale. Re-examination of the principles applied to fisheries management over recent years has resulted in the adoption of a ‘precautionary approach’ to the conservation, management and exploitation of fish stocks, and in an explicit need to take account of uncertainties in management to reduce risks to stocks and their environment. Such an approach is highly relevant to the management of the European eel and requires that urgent consideration is given to harvest strategies and decision structures for the national and international management of stocks and fisheries. Provisional biological reference levels should be established to provide an equable assessment of the status of stocks in all parts of Europe and to evaluate the need for management measures in all fisheries. These will need to be reviewed as further information comes available. Monitoring and research on eel stocks should therefore be enhanced and co-ordinated to improve our understanding of the status of stocks throughout Europe and the biology of the species.