Discard bans have been proposed as part of management policies aimed at balanced harvest (BH). Nationwide discard bans exist in several coun- tries, including Chile, the European Union, Norway, and New Zealand. We analysed experiences from these countries to determine whether or not discard bans are in contradiction with BH, based on six aspects: policy objectives, species/sizes applicability, accompanying technical measures, at- sea monitoring and control, and possible impacts. When discard bans are fully implemented, fishing operations change to more selective fishing, typically targeting bigger individuals of main commercial species. This is consistent with the primary objective of many discard policies, i.e. to reduce unwanted catch. In contrast, proponents of BH argue that broader catch diversity, a product of a widespread harvest strategy, should be sought to avoid major impacts on the ecosystem. Our analysis demonstrates that the scope of discard bans is often limited to main commercial species, al- though usually they can be extended to include more ecosystem components. Some of the policies examined also prohibit the use of unwanted catches for human consumption, thus limiting their effective use. However, the implementation of discard bans requires high levels of at-sea mon- itoring and effective control, and/or strong incentives to fish more selectively, neither of which applied in most cases examined. We conclude that if discard bans were set differently, they could contribute to fishery management policies aiming at BH. Their goals should be in line with BH, i.e. to reach a wider global harvest pattern, or at least be established within management regimes that promote high compliance. Finally, the extent to which a discard ban contributes to achieve BH depends also on the relative importance of the ecosystem benthic and megafauna components.