Active sound emitters (‘pingers’) are used in several gillnet fisheries to reduce bycatch of small cetaceans, and/or to reduce depredation by dolphins. Here, we review studies conducted to determine how effective these devices may be as management tools. Significant reductions in bycatch of harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena, franciscana Pontoporia blainvillei, common Delphinus delphis and striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba, and beaked whales as a group have been demonstrated. For harbour porpoise this result has been replicated in 14 controlled experiments in North America and Europe, and appears to be due to porpoises avoiding the area ensonified by pingers. Two gillnet fisheries (California-Oregon driftnet fishery for swordfish; New England groundfish fishery) with mandatory pinger use have been studied for over a decade. Bycatch rates of dolphins/porpoises have fallen by 50 to 60%, and there is no evidence of bycatch increasing over time due to habituation. In both fisheries, bycatch rates were significantly higher in nets sparsely equipped with pingers or in which pingers had failed, than in nets without any pingers at all. Studies of pinger use to reduce depredation by bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus generally show small and inconsistent improvements in fish catches and somewhat reduced net damage. Dolphin bycatch in these fisheries is rare, but still occurs in nets with pingers. Taken together, these studies suggest that the most promising candidates for bycatch reduction via pinger use will be gillnet fisheries in developed countries in which the bycaught cetaceans are generally neophobic species with large home ranges. We offer a set of lessons learned from the last decade of bycatch management.