Central to an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) is reconciling the short-term need for catches with the long-term need for sustainability of target species and other ecosystem components. We assess the role of gear technology in supporting the objectives and implementation of EAF and identify the circumstances in which investment in the environmental performance of fishing gear provides the greatest benefits. The greatest benefits are usually achieved when gear technologists embed the new technology in the management system and when there are clear incentives to use it. We propose a framework for comparing combinations of management measures that might support EAF, based on knowledge of the environmental impacts of different gears in different areas and management systems. This framework helps us assess when fishing effects "matter" and when gear technologists should contribute to mitigating unwanted effects. Incentives and effective enforcement will be key to introducing gears with lower environmental impact. We expect that future emphasis on marine spatial planning, the use of environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment for fisheries, more equitable treatment of fisheries and other marine sectors, and rising oil prices will lead to greater pressure on gear technologists to support EAF.