The interaction between fishing gears and the marine environment define ‘fisheries,’ and the effect of gears on marine ecosystems and fish stocks has been the source of much debate. Here, we present the first summary of globally reconstructed fisheries catches by major gear categories for 1950–2014. We used the Sea Around Us reconstructed global catch database that accounts for reported and unreported fisheries catches, and associated all catches to a fishing gear category. We assigned all industrial (i.e., large-scale) fisheries catches to industrial gear categories by fishing country, taxon, year and the area of fishing. Additionally, we derived catches by individual small-scale gear types for the most-important small-scale fishing countries in each of nine regions around the world, and applied their gear use to similar countries in each of the regions, to serve as a preliminary small-scale catch-by-gear assignment that can be improved upon over time. The combination of these account for gear use for all marine fisheries globally. We found that two industrial gear types, bottom trawling and purse seining, jointly account for over 53% of all catches, while bottom trawling alone dominated discarded catches. In the small-scale sector, over 60% of catches were caught by gillnets, various line gear, and encircling nets. Small-scale fisheries contributed most to the value of landed catches, while industrial bottom trawlers were responsible for discarding large amounts of potentially valuable catches. Catches by purse seines fluctuated over time, mainly due to variability of the underlying species, e.g., anchovies and sardines. The distribution and scale of use of different fishing gears, combined with knowledge of their divergent environmental impacts should allow a new wave of research into the global impacts of fisheries.