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Sitting at the edge of the docks at the Venice Marina, under overcast skies with waves rolling steadily in, Larry Averitt is a man in need of work.

Typically, this would be the high season for Mr. Averitt. He is a charter boat captain who runs sport fishing tours out of this small town, a collection of marsh, causeways and mobile homes at the mouth of the Mississippi River. He was booked solid this month, seven days a week at $700 (U.S.) a day.

The unprecedented oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has put a halt to such activity in Venice, and in dozens of towns along the Gulf Coast that are bracing to be hit by the massive oil slick. Fishing is now largely banned, and tourism is dying.

"I stand to lose my business, my home, my livelihood," Mr. Averitt said, his empty boat bobbing in front of him. "We're sitting here right now hoping someone's going to come up here and want to go see the marsh."

Wary of an oil-tainted fishing industry, the state shut down the lucrative fishing zone along the east of the Mississippi from which many draw their living, as generations before them have done. After the closing, Mr. Averitt's clients cancelled reservations.

Without the chance to fish, local boat owners hoped for contracts to help lay out inflatable boom pipes to keep the oil away from the self-described "Fishing Capital of the World," but none had been issued by Sunday.

So the fishermen of Venice sat and waited, idling between the jobs they've always known and the disaster rolling atop the waves toward them.

"Only thing we can do now is wait and see," Mr. Averitt said.

Oil began to roll into marshes on the far outskirts of Venice late Sunday, and there are fears that it will doom the one-industry town, putting a stop to shrimping and all the businesses that rely on it. A fishing association already says it is seeking $20-million in lost earnings from British Petroleum.

"We might be out of business for 10 years, in something we've done our whole lives," said Dean Blanchard, a local shrimp buyer. "We might be out of work for the rest of our lives. We don't know."

The oil leak from a sunken BP well in the Gulf of Mexico comes as the community continues to recover from its last disaster. Scattered around its marshes are overturned ships, immersed vehicles and derelict buildings - all left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Government reaction to that storm was criticized as slow. On Sunday, however, before the oil had reached shore, Venice hosted U.S. President Barack Obama, who spent part of the day in this overwhelmingly Republican state.

"He told us pretty much everything we wanted to hear, which is great," said Damon McKnight, 38, a local charter fisherman who was among a handful of local men with whom the President spoke during his brief visit. Mr. Obama told him the government would move quickly to reopen fishery areas - state waters were closed on Saturday and federal waters a day later - once they were proven to be safe.

"I was very glad to hear it," Mr. McKnight said. "I think everyone was pretty excited."

But other reactions were mixed.

"Nobody from the South is for Obama," electrical worker John Chain said of the President. "That's all he's done today - spend a few million dollars to come down here and show his face."

As BP crews try to stop the oil leak, the town has filled with staff and contractors. The company is also offering temporary work to locals, whether or not they own a boat, to aid efforts to prevent the oil from advancing to the shore.

Clutching paperwork to apply for one of the part-time, low-paid jobs, Bernel Prout, 55, shrugged when asked what he'd do next. He has been fishing since he was seven, lost his boat to Katrina, and has seen his work dry up in the past week. If the oil hits shrimping waters, it would be a "disaster," he said.

"You're looking at five, six, seven years before we can start working again. What do we do in the meantime? Go on welfare, I guess. Food stamps," Mr. Prout said.

He is one of many frustrated by the response that has brought with it a bureaucracy Venice residents aren't accustomed to.

In order to have a boat certified to take part in the cleanup, fishermen had to apply to BP and go through a general health and safety course, then a specific boat safety course, ruffling the feathers of those who have sailed these waterways for decades.

Fisherman Stephen Brindle has already rigged his boat to scoop 2,000 gallons of oil per load from the surface, but has not been called upon to help. "Can't find anyone to give us a contract to work," Mr. Brindle said. "Nobody's saying anything."