The present paper suggests a method for estimating the fishing power of vessels and for analysing fleet dynamics. The approach is based on quantification of stocks catchability (q), derived from fishing mortality coefficients (F) as calculated by virtual population analysis. Catchabilities for each harvested stock are thus estimated relatively to the fishing effort (fn) of each vessel, according to the equation: q = (F/fn). A linear model is then fitted to these catchabilities. The model allows the identification and quantification of trends in average mortality rates per fishing hour for each stock. Under some assumptions, trends are interpreted as variations in the overall fishing power of each fleet. The approach is applied to three industrial and semi-industrial fleets of Brittany (Lorient, Concarneau and Douarnenez) and to the main gadoid stocks they exploit off the west coast of Scotland (ICES area VIa), and in the Celtic Sea (ICES area VIIf,g,h) for Concarneau. Results show large variations in fishing power. Particularly, a marked increase trend in the fishing power exerted on saithe (Pollachius virens) is highlighted for the three fleets, over the period 1983-1989. These variations can be explained by the redirection of fishing strategies, which may occur on a large scale. Thus, we show how the collapse of saithe stock at first led the three fleets to intensify the harvesting of saithe, and from 1989 on, to adopt different strategies. The possible causes of the observed dynamics are discussed, as well as their consequences for fisheries management. In particular, the relevance of direct control of fishing effort as a regulatory tool is questioned.