Composition and spatial diversity patterns of retained and discarded catches in the deep-water shrimp (family Aristeidae) trawling fishery off Brazil were assessed by observers on-board commercial operations in 2005 and 2006. These trawls caught 19 440 kg and 180 076 individuals of which 76·0 and 65·2%, respectively, were discarded at sea. Finfishes represented 54% of the numerical catch but were almost fully discarded (98%). Crustaceans represented 40% of the numerical catch and were mostly retained (80%). The scarlet shrimp Aristaeopsis edwardsiana comprised approximately half of the retained catch. The remainder of the retained proportion comprised mainly the red giant shrimp Aristaeomorpha foliacea, the alistado shrimp Aristeus antillensis and small quantities of Argentine hake Merluccius hubbsi and gulf hake Urophycis mystacea. Discards comprised 108 species including 72 fish species, 19 crustaceans and 10 cephalopods. The large-scaled lanternfish Neoscopelus macrolepidotus was dominant in the discards, followed by the benthopelagic fishes Monomitopus agassizii, Synagrops bellus, Dibranchus atlanticus and Gadella imberbis and various macrurid species. This fishery was restricted to a limited bathymetric range (700–800 m), where discrete megafauna assemblages exist and may have been significantly affected.