Matt Owens was born and raised in coastal California, but the experiences that ultimately led to his founding Pescavore with his wife Clarice were in Zambia, a land-locked country in central Africa.
As a surfer and student of fisheries and environmental studies, “when he applied to the Peace Corps,” Clarice says, “he expected to be assigned to a coastal community, preferably with a good, uncrowded wave. Instead, a pick-up dropped him off with his backpack about 200 miles from a tiny village in Zambia.”
For the next two years, his directive was to improve the diet of rural people and help small-scale business development and food security by teaching villagers to construct fishponds, raise and harvest tilapia. Upon completion of service, Matt went to Ghana to set up a similar program.
Clarice had attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study aerospace engineering, interning for Boeing before transitioning to San Diego to work for Solar Turbines. When Matt returned from Africa he began graduate studies at UCSD where the couple and future business partners met.
The couple settled in Santa Cruz, where Matt served as the Managing Director of Fishwise, providing innovative market-based tools and expertise in sustainability services, human rights action, and traceability best practices. Clarice took an engineering role at Bloom Energy, a cleantech manufacturer.
Matt transitioned to working for Tri Marine, as Director of Sustainability, providing leadership in improving environmental sustainability and worker protections in global tuna supply chains.
During a trip to Majuro Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands, they discovered locally-made marlin jerky in the mini-mart. “We ate it all day long,” Clarice remembers.
“When we got back to California, we started thinking about the next step in our lives. We knew we wanted to have our own business, and we began to research seafood snacks.”
The process of making a seafood snack to their standards took advantage of all the Owens’ background, experience and education. Clarice loves to cook, so she experimented with the drying and curing process. The couple even visited the Makah and Quileute Native territories of the Pacific Northwest and with fisherman in Westport, Washington, who have been smoking tuna for generations.
Some of the issues they wanted to solve: “We wanted to do everything domestically. Seafood and shellfish rank as the 17th highest deficit-contributing category in the U.S. These imports create a huge carbon footprint. Traceability, mislabeling, and fraud are also issues; illegal and unregulated fishing is a world-wide concern, as are the human rights of fisherman and processors.”
The Owens concluded that they would use yellowfin tuna caught off the Southern California coast, by specific boats, that they coordinate with. “We label every product with the vessel and Captain responsible for each catch as well as the species and catch method, giving a transparent view into the way your seafood made it to your hands.”
“Because of our proprietary process, the omega-3 is preserved, the tuna tastes great, contains no artificial ingredients, has almost no sugar, and it eliminates many of the foul odors that can come with dried fish.”
The couple were able to move forward, in part, with financing from Community Works (formerly Northern California Community Loan Fund) and the California Fisheries Fund of the Environmental Defense Fund, which lend for health food initiatives, poverty alleviation, and environmentally sound projects.
“These organizations support companies like ours by quietly deploying capital for impactful and socially responsible projects. It was an endorsement that they saw the merit of what we were doing. Consumers have now added their approval by enthusiastically purchasing Pescavore Ahi Tuna Jerky.”