A Czech fisherman in Alaska is bringing a taste of the Pacific back home

"Czexpat" Vojta Novák found a great business opportunity in Alaska – now he's sharing Sockeye salmon and Pacific cod with his landlocked birthplace.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 09.06.2023 17:00:00 (updated on 03.07.2023) Reading time: 6 minutes

When Vojta Novák first went to Alaska two decades ago, he thought he would never go back – but today Alaska has become his home and the reason he created his fish-delivery business, Alaskan Fisherman

“Twenty years ago Alaska was super wild,” Vojta says. “The cannery where I worked looked like it was built a hundred years ago, we worked 16-20 hours, I didn’t even speak English. It was very hard.”

But as a college kid, he made good money and after returning to the Czech Republic, he confesses he “forgot how hard it was and only remembered the good times and the great money.” So when the cannery called and asked if he wanted to go back, Vojta said the good memories ended up winning over the more trying times.

“With Alaska, you either go one year to work and never go back or you get addicted and you never leave,” Vojta says. In his case, Alaska won.

After years of working as a fisherman there, Vojta started to invest in his own vessels and eventually focused on his dream of bringing quality salmon home to the Czech Republic through his company, Alaskan Fisherman

Today, Alaskan Fisherman brings frozen wild fish directly to your table in the Czech Republic. They will arrange everything from A to Z – from catching the fish to packaging, shipping, and delivery – right to your door.  

The type of fish available varies throughout the year. Alaskan Fisherman catches Sockeye salmon (also known as red salmon) only one month per year. Sockeye Salmon is famous for its full taste and dark red meat, which is attributed to the presence of Astaxanthin, the most powerful antioxidant. The company also catches Pacific cod and on very rare occasions Halibut, both individually or in cages to avoid burdening the marine ecosystem. Both are also available seasonally and rich in vitamins A, D, and E as well as valuable omega-3s.

We talked to Vojta about his love for Alaska and the sea, and what inspired him to start his company. 

You’re known as “the Alaskan fisherman” now, but how and when did your passion for Alaska actually begin?

So the first year I came to Alaska was 2002. I was a college student and I just wanted to travel, to see the world. I grew up in a little village (Morávka near Frýdek-Místek) in the middle of nowhere in the Czech Republic so I wanted to experience the world. Alaska was always on my bucket list, but you need a bit of money to go there, so I figured I needed a job. So 2002 was my first summer working at the cannery.

Why Alaska? What brought you there in particular?

I kind of followed a dream of my dad. During the communist era, he was locked down and could not travel. But his dream was always to live in Canada, in the middle of nowhere, near the Yukon River. So I followed in his footsteps somehow and ended up in Alaska.

What is it like being an expat in Alaska? Do you feel like a fish out of water when you come back?

It was hard at the beginning, but what is great about Alaska is that if you work hard, they will accept you. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are from.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Czech Republic. I have family and a lot of friends there, but then I land in Anchorage. The flight into the city is always bumpy, so you land and you’re kind of happy you survived. Then I see the mountains around and the water and it’s just so peaceful. I feel like I’m really at home.

I was very lucky as a lot of people don’t want to work in remote locations here, so I always got a lot of opportunities because I was willing to go places where nobody else wanted to go. The company would call me and offer an opportunity to go somewhere 30 miles beyond the Arctic Circle, and I would say yes. I spent so many years in small tribal villages with populations as small as 50 people to a couple of thousands. It was an amazing opportunity and it became my lifestyle.

Are you still doing this or are you focusing more on your own business now?

I’m focusing a lot on my business now because it brings me a lot of freedom. Alaska is an incredible state – if you work hard and smart, you will benefit from it. Of course, it is rough, sometimes we work 16 hours a day, but we also have a lot of fun and I love it. And my business brings me all that.

What motivated you to bring salmon to the Czech Republic? Lack of accessibilty to quality fish here? Or was it more connected to your passion for fishing?

I think it was a natural process. In the Czech Republic, 10-15 years ago nobody really cared much about the quality of fish and Alaskan red salmon was also very expensive. So it started with me bringing a couple of boxes every time I went back to the Czech Republic and all my neighbors were asking: “Give me some fish” and soon it was not enough. 

They were asking for more so I brought 50 boxes one time – I only had 13 orders so I thought I would have to eat the rest of those boxes of fish with my family for the whole Christmas holiday. But the boxes were sold. Then I brought 200 boxes, then 500 boxes and I started to feel the market was hungry for it.

Things have changed a lot in the past decade. People started to take care of themselves, worry about their health and what they eat, and also make more money. They also travel more and go to countries where the ocean is and try their seafood and start recognizing better quality.

What makes your fish different from everything else being sold out there?

Because I’m here, I can control the process, the production, the shipping. And it’s my fish. When you’re selling something, you need to be proud of it. When I deliver fish to someone, I can always say “I know the fish is good.” I want people to open a box of my fish and say “This is good fish.” 

Is the process of sending the fish from Alaska to Czechia sustainable?

We used to fly the fish, but right now, because of the high demand, we send a container. First to Seattle, then to Hamburg, and Prague. We’re also trying to be more eco-friendly, changing the packaging from Styrofoam to a recyclable carton box. Alaska is a very eco-friendly place and people want to keep it that way for the next generation and I want to be part of that. I hope my daughters will fish and their kids will fish here.

Are your daughters following in your footsteps?

Carolina, my oldest daughter, I think is following in my steps. We bought her a fishing permit when she was 12. She’s 15 years old now and she’s coming with me every summer to Alaska and I take time off from work and we fish together. She’s making good money, building her own business and learning to be an independent woman. 

What does the future hold for you and your company?

My number one goal with Alaskan Fisherman has always been to bring good fish to the Czech Republic. And to reach that goal I've connected with a new business partner, Zdeněk Šmejkal, who is the co-owner of the management and investment group M.L. Moran and who is going to help to build up the Alaskan Fisherman on the market. He is also a very passionate sailor and fisherman, so our worlds and values naturally merged, which was essential for me. But the whole magic behind it is to treat the fish like your family would eat it. Everything else – the business, the growth – will come if you do a good job.

This article was written in cooperation with the Alaskan Fisherman. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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