By-catch in marine fisheries, particularly those using pelagic and demersal longlines, is a major driver of declines in abundance of sharks and rays around the world. A wide variety of by-catch reduction devices (BRDs), that is, modified gears designed to reduce incidental captures of a variety of marine species while maintaining target catch rates, have been proposed, but the extent to which BRDs actually reduce the risk of catching sharks and rays remains unclear. We performed a meta-analysis of 27 publications that reported the capture of sharks and rays and, in some cases, of targeted teleosts in longline gear deployed with and without BRDs. The risk of shark and ray capture differed between types of BRDs, but only one BRD type, longlines raised off the bottom, reduced by-catch significantly. Circle hooks did not reduce the risk of capturing sharks and rays but might improve discard survival and are inexpensive, which might make them effective in reducing the detrimental effects of longlining on these species. In addition to being generally ineffective, some devices, such as electropositive and magnetic repellents, are expensive and have inherent construction drawbacks that are likely to make them unsuitable for commercial use. Overall, most BRDs did not affect the likelihood of catching targeted teleosts, but a substantial number of studies did not adequately assess target catch. We identified two poorly studied classes of BRD gear (i.e. raised demersal longlines, and monofilament nylon leaders), which represent promising directions for future research.