We mapped and briefly describe the surficial geology of selected examples of shelf-edge reefs (50–120 m deep) of the southeastern United States, which are apparently derived from ancient Pleistocene shorelines and are intermittently distributed throughout the region. These reefs are ecologically significant because they support a diverse array of fish and invertebrate species, and they are the only aggregation spawning sites of gag (Mycteroperca microlepis), scamp (M. phenax), and other economically important reef fish. Our studies on the east Florida shelf in the Experimental Oculina Research Reserve show that extensive damage to the habitat-structuring coral Oculina varicosa has occurred in the past, apparently from trawling and dredging activities of the 1970s and later. On damaged or destroyed Oculina habitat, reef-fish abundance and diversity are low, whereas on intact habitat, reef-fish diversity is relatively high compared to historical diversity on the same site. The abundance and biomass of the economically important reef fish was much higher in the past than it is now, and spawning aggregations of gag and scamp have been lost or greatly reduced in size. On the west Florida shelf, fishers have concentrated on shelf-edge habitats for over 100 yrs, but fishing intensity increased dramatically in the 1980s. Those reefs are characterized by low abundance of economically important species. The degree and extent of habitat damage there is unknown. We recommend marine fishery reserves to protect habitat and for use in experimentally examining the potential production of unfished communities.