Whakatāne fishing and diving operation Diveworks Charters was due to open the doors to its Strand booking office the day Whakaari/White Island erupted.
Nearly three weeks on from the December 9 eruption, the death toll stands at 17 and many others are critically injured. Two are missing and presumed dead, and police suspended their search for them on Tuesday.
Since that fateful Monday, a rāhui has been in place prohibiting fishing and food gathering in the waters off Whakatāne. Implemented by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa, the rāhui remains until further notice.
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Diveworks Charters was able to open on Monday of this week but could only offer limited services in what would usually be the busiest time of the year.
"We were booked right through the period since the eruption until now and cancelled a number of trips," owner Phil van Dusschoten said.
"We're still cancelling fishing charters but can now offer our dolphin watching and Moutohora-Whale Island trips."
Van Dusschoten said he had decided to continue paying his five staff and it had been heartening to see local businesses step up to help their own.
"We had a gentleman come in this week and spend around $1000 on vouchers to give his staff for Christmas. He said he was looking at doing something out-of-town but knew this was a way he could help out locally."
Van Dusschoten said he supported the rāhui but it would be a relief to be able to access funds for businesses affected by the Whakaari-White Island eruption.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last Monday a $5 million contingency fund for businesses affected by the eruption and recent flooding in Westland.
More details of the fund came this week from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Dean Ford, the ministry's general manager of economic development and transitions, acknowledged the Whakatāne community was grieving and people were also worried about the impact on local businesses and jobs.
He said a Business Support Grants Programme would be set up for Whakatāne as well as expanded business recovery coordination services.
Working with Tourism New Zealand, the ministry would also analyse the ramifications of the eruption on the wider tourism industry.
"This initial package provides a short-term response to immediate community needs over the summer period. Further decisions will be needed to respond to the long-term implications for the local economy."
The Eastern Bay of Plenty Chamber of Commerce would be the first contact point for affected businesses. Whakatāne District Council would administer the programme.
A three-member panel with representatives from the Whakatāne District Council, Ministry of Social Development, and Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa would approve grants.
Chamber general manager Crete Wana said the organisation was trying to support the business community and therefore the wider community.
"There are a number of businesses that have been impacted and in different ways," Wana said.
"The contingency fund will help with wages or financial problems as a result of the eruption."
He said the last thing the chamber wanted to see was businesses struggling or having to close.
The council issued a statement with Tourism Bay of Plenty on Tuesday encouraging tourists to visit Whakatāne and support the region over summer.
Mayor Judy Turner said the Whakatāne community welcomed visitors.
"Whakatāne is a beautiful and enjoyable place and, along with Ohope, has been a domestic destination of choice for decades. We don't imagine that will change however we very much hope our international visitors realise there is still a lot here for them to enjoy," she said.
Tourism Bay of Plenty chief executive Kristin Dunne said the community and the industry has been significantly affected by the eruption.
"We encourage people who have booked travel or tours, or who are considering a visit to keep coming. Showing support for the local area and operators at this time will mean a lot to all those whose livelihoods have been affected."
Business Support Grants Programme
Eligibility criteria for the Business Support Grants Programme include that the business:
• Was viable and suffered a substantiated, significant income drop caused by the Whakaari/White Island eruption.
• Is primarily based in Whakatāne.
• Paid employees at least the minimum wage.
• Provided a significant source of income to the business owner.
• Had no other efficient options available, including insurance.
• Businesses would also need to make financial disclosures and show how much money they needed and what it would be spent on, eg: marketing, wages.