To address growing concern over the effects of fisheries non-target catch on elasmobranchs worldwide, the accurate reporting of elasmobranch catch is essential. This requires data on a combination of measures, including reported landings, retained and discarded non-target catch, and post-discard survival. Identification of the factors influencing discard versus retention is needed to improve catch estimates and to determine wasteful fishing practices. To do this, retention rates of elasmobranch non-target catch in a broad subset of fisheries throughout the world were compared by taxon, fishing country, and gear. A regression tree and random forest analysis indicated that taxon was the most important determinant of retention in this dataset, but all three factors together explained 59% of the variance. Estimates of total elasmobranch removals were calculated by dividing the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) global elasmobranch landings by average retention rates, and suggest that total elasmobranch removals may exceed FAO reported landings by as much as 400%. This analysis is the first effort to directly characterize global drivers of discards for elasmobranch non-target catch. The results highlight the importance of accurate quantification of retention and discard rates to improve assessments of the potential impacts of fisheries on these species.