Following a multi-decadal decline of the European eel stock all across the continent, the EU adopted a protection and recovery plan in 2007, known as the Eel Regulation. Implementation, however, has come to a standstill: in 2015, the agreed goals had not been realised, the required protection had not been achieved, and from 2012 to 2015, no further reduction in mortality has been accomplished—while the stock is at a historical minimum. To analyse this manifest impasse, this article characterises the steering framework of the Eel Regulation as a governance problem. The Eel Problem is found to be extremely complex, due to many knowledge uncertainties and countless societal forces having an influence. The Eel Regulation divides this complexity along geographical lines, obliging national governments to implement national protection plans. This deliberate distribution of control has improved communication between countrymen-stakeholders, and has stimulated protective action in most EU Member States and elsewhere. In the absence of adequate international coordination and feedback on national plans, however, coherence is lacking and the common goals are not met. Actions and achievements have been assessed at the national level, but these assessments have not been evaluated internationally. Full geographical coverage has not been attained, nor is that plausible in future. Meanwhile, ICES’ advice remained focused on whole-stock management, a conservative approach not matching the structure of the Eel Problem or the approach of the Eel Regulation. Hence, essentially localised problems (non-reporting, insufficient action) now lead to a hard fail, paralysing the whole European eel recovery plan. Here, I argue that immediate re-focusing protective actions, assessments, evaluations and advice on mortality goals and indicators, for each management area individually, will enable feedback on national protection plans, and in that way, will break the impasse.