Since the 1980s, the European eel Anguilla anguilla stock is in steep decline. Lipid reserves are essential to cover energetic requirements for silver eel migration and reproduction. Two large and independent data sets from Belgium and The Netherlands show an average one-third decrease in fat contents of yellow eels over the past 15 years. Also Le Cren's relative condition factor decreased. On the basis of the somatic energy reserves, reproductive potential of eels from various latitudes over Europe was estimated, assuming fat levels in yellow eel are indicative of those in silver eels. Only large individuals, females as well as males, with high lipid content seem to be able to contribute to the spawning stock. The decrease in fat content in yellow eels may be a key element in the stock decline and raises serious concerns about the chances of the stock to recover. © 2008 Blackwell Munksgaard.