How World Cup and Covid hit Billingsgate Fish Market

While the UK’s largest fish market gears up for normally one of the busiest times of the year, some traders have admitted business is nowhere near as booming as it once was.

During the festive season last year, dozens of customers were spotted queuing through the night as they waited patiently for East London’s iconic Billingsgate Fish Market to open at 4am.

But for Mike Eglin, who has worked in the historic market since the 1970s and is head of James Nash & Son, (one of the four key firms operating in the market), business has been “horrendous” since the pandemic.

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Mike told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Christmas is a bit like Easter, especially on Saturdays. The last three Saturdays before Christmas it gets really busy with the public, but the last couple of years because of Covid and the restrictions it hasn’t been that busy.

“This year it’s been better than the last couple of years but it’s still not back to pre-Covid levels. It’s still a long way off of that. It’s been horrendous.”

Billingsgate Market sells fish from all over the world and is made up of dozens of stalls and shops that are all packed together in a large trading hall in Canary Wharf.

It is open to the public from 4am to 8.30am Credit: Ruby Gregory

The historic market has been around for hundreds of years and didn’t always exclusively sell fish, nor has Canary Wharf always been the home of it.

Originally selling the likes of salt, pottery, iron or coal, the market did not switch to the fish trade until at least the 16th Century. Billingsgate eventually got its own market building in Lower Thames Street in 1850 and existed there for over a century.

By 1982, Billingsgate moved to Canary Wharf, which is where it has existed ever since. In a few years’ time, the market will move to its third home in Dagenham Dock as part of a £1 billion regeneration project.


From Tuesday to Saturday, restaurants, fishmongers and everyday customers get up in the middle of the night to buy the world’s finest and freshest fish – hence why it opens from 4am to 8am.

For traders inside the market, it’s an overnight operation. They have to wake up when a lot of us are just heading to sleep for 2am starts. But during Covid, a lot of that ground to a halt and only a few companies were allowed to run inside the market – some fishmongers and wet fish shops resorted to home deliveries as they tried to make a living.

Mike says there was “just enough” supplies to keep all four companies going during the pandemic, but the financial uncertainty brought on by the cost of living means customers are spending less.

Mike Eglin has worked at the UKs historic fish market, Billingsgate for a number of years Credit: Ruby Gregory

Mike Eglin has worked at historic Billingsgate fish market for a number of years. Credit: Ruby Gregory

He said: “We’re still nowhere near where we once were. You’ve not only got Covid, but you’ve also now got the cost of living crisis because people buy less. There’s no restaurant trade at the beginning of the week now and they’re just not getting the bookings.

“On top of that, you’ve just had the World Cup so everybody is cancelling their Saturday night dinners.”

Zaid Khan, another trader in the market, was forced to close during Covid and remembers how difficult a time it was.

Fish is sold here from Tuesday to Saturday Credit: Ruby Gregory

Fish is sold here from Tuesday to Saturday Credit: Ruby Gregory

He said: “During Covid, the market was closed, only four firms were open, it was very, very hard for us.

“We only buy the fish we think we can sell easily, but sometimes it happens where we’ve ordered too much fish, we might have to throw it away on Friday or Saturday.”

In the lead-up to Christmas, Zaid reveals the last week has been very slow and that it’s been hard, but hopes there will be a last-minute rush ahead of Christmas day.

Billingsgate Market has operated in Canary Wharf, East London since the early 1980s Credit: Ruby Gregory

Billingsgate Market has operated in Canary Wharf, East London since the early 1980s Credit: Ruby Gregory

Chairman of the City Corporation’s policy and resources committee, Chris Hayward previously spoke to the LDRS about the relocation of the market and believed it would be a positive move for traders and shoppers.

He said: “Our investment in delivering modern, environmentally-sustainable wholesale markets in Barking and Dagenham will boost the economy across East London, supporting jobs, skills and training.

“Relocating our markets will help ease traffic and improve air quality in inner London, while unlocking land at Billingsgate for new housing.”

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