This paper examines and ranks restoration alternatives for improving fish habitat by evaluating tradeoffs between fish production and restoration costs. Optimization modelling is used to maximize out-migrating coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) from a natal stream and is applied as a case study in California's Shasta River. Restoration activities that alter flow and water temperature conditions are the decision variables in the model and include relocating a major diversion, increasing riparian shading, increasing instream flow, restoring a cool-water spring and removing a dam. A budget constraint limits total restoration expenditures. This approach combines simple fish population modelling with flow and water quality modelling to explore management strategies and aid decision making. Previous fish habitat optimization research typically uses single restoration strategies, usually by altering reservoir releases or modifying outlet structures. Our method enlarges the solution space to more accurately represent extensive and integrated solutions to fish habitat problems. Results indicate that restoration alternatives can be prioritized by fish habitat improvement and restoration cost. For the Shasta River case study, considerable habitat restoration investments were required before fish productivity increased substantially. This exercise illustrates the potential of ecological optimization for highlighting promising restoration approaches and dismissing poor alternatives. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.