Abstract The purpose of this paper is to introduce the impact of fishing activity on a marine ecosystem. The fishing activity is considered not only through annual harvest but also through a second component, called the degree of protection of the fishery environment. This characterizes the environmental impact of fishing. A stochastic dynamic programming problem is presented in infinite horizon, where a sole owner seeks to maximize a discounted expected profit. The main hypothesis states that the stock–recruitment relationship is stochastic and that both components of the fishing activity have an impact on the probability law of the state of the fishery environment. The optimal fishing policy is obtained and compared with standard models. This optimal policy has the following properties: is not a constant escapement policy and indicates an element of self-protection by the fishery manager. The paper ends with a discussion on the existence of degrees of protection of the fishery environment that take into account the environmental conservation and preservation of economic activity.