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Successful ocean management needs to consider not only fishing impacts but drivers of harvest. Consolidating post-1950 global catch and economic data, we assess which attributes of fisheries are good indicators for fishery development. Surprisingly, year of development and economic value are not correlated with fishery trophic levels. Instead, patterns emerge of profit-driven fishing for attributes related to costs and revenues. Post-1950 fisheries initially developed on shallow ranging species with large catch, high price, and big body size, and then expanded to less desirable species. Revenues expected from developed fisheries declined 95% from 1951 to 1999, and few high catch or valuable fishing opportunities remain. These results highlight the importance of economic attributes of species as leading indicators for harvest-related impacts in ocean ecosystems.