The European eel (Anguilla anguilla L.) is distributed in coastal and inland habitats all over Europe, but spawns in the Sargasso Sea and is thus affected by both continental and oceanic factors. Since the 1980s a steady decline has been observed in the recruitment of glass eels to freshwater and in total eel landings. The eel is considered as critically endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of species. The Skagerrak beach seine survey from Norway constitutes the longest fishery-independent dataset on yellow/silver eels (starting in 1904). The Skagerrak coastal region receives larvae born in the Sargasso Sea spawning areas that have followed the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift before they penetrate far into the North Sea. The Skagerrak coastal time series is therefore particularly valuable for exploring the impacts of oceanic factors on fluctuations in eel recruitment abundance. Analyses showed that Sargasso Sea surface temperature was negatively correlated with eel abundance, with a lag of 12 years revealing a cyclic and detrimental effect of high temperatures on the newly hatched larvae. The North Atlantic Oscillation index and inflow of North Atlantic water into the North Sea were negatively correlated with eel abundance, with a lag of 11 years. Increased currents towards the North Atlantic during high North Atlantic Oscillation years may send larvae into the subpolar gyre before they are ready to metamorphose and settle, resulting in low recruitment in the northern part of the distribution area for these years. The Skagerrak time series was compared with glass eel recruitment to freshwater in the Netherlands (Den Oever glass eel time series), and similar patterns were found revealing a cycle linked to changes in oceanic factors affecting glass eel recruitment. The recent decline of eels in the Skagerrak also coincided with previously documented shifts in environmental conditions of the North Sea ecosystem.