Fishing marine ecosystems indiscriminately and intensely can have negative impacts on biodiversity, but it may increase the biomass of fish available for capture in the system. We explore the possibility that China’s high fishery catches are a result of predator removal using an ecosystem model of the East China Sea (ECS). We show that China’s high fishery catches can be explained by the removal of larger predatory fish and consequent increases in the production of smaller fish. We project that single-species management would decrease catches in the ECS by reversing these ecosystem effects. Fisheries similar to those in China produce a large fraction of global catch; management reform in these areas must consider the entire ecosystem, rather than individual species.