Two widely-recognized hypotheses propose that increases in fish abundance at artificial reefs are caused by (a) the attraction and redistribution of existing individuals, with no net increase in overall abundance and (b) the addition of new individuals by production, leading to a net increase in overall abundance. Inappropriate experimental designs have prevented many studies from discriminating between the two processes. Eight of 11 experiments comparing fish abundances on artificial reefs with those on adjacent soft bottom habitats were compromised by a lack of replication or spatial interspersion in the design itself. Only three studies featured proper controls and replicated designs with the interspersion of reef and control sites. Goodness of fit tests of abundance data for 67 species from these studies indicated that more fishes occur on reefs than on controls, particularly for species that typically occur over hard substrata. Conversely, seagrass specialists favour controls over reefs. Changes in the appearance of fish abundance trajectories driven by manipulation of sampling intervals highlight the need for adequate temporal sampling to encompass key life history events, particularly juvenile settlement. To ultimately determine whether attraction and production is responsible for increased abundances on reefs, requires two experimental features: 1) control sites, both interspersed among artificial reefs and at reef and non-reef locations outside the test area and 2) incorporation of fish age and length data over time. Techniques such as otolith microchemistry, telemetry and stable isotope analysis can be used to help resolve feeding and movement mechanisms driving attraction and production.