There is increasing concern about the effects of pile driving and other anthropogenic (human-generated) sound on fishes. Although there is a growing body of reports examining this issue, little of the work is found in the peer-reviewed literature. This review critically examines both the peer-reviewed and ‘grey’ literature, with the goal of determining what is known and not known about effects on fish. A companion piece provides an analysis of the available data and applies it to estimate noise exposure criteria for pile driving and other impulsive sounds. The critical literature review concludes that very little is known about effects of pile driving and other anthropogenic sounds on fishes, and that it is not yet possible to extrapolate from one experiment to other signal parameters of the same sound, to other types of sounds, to other effects, or to other species.