However, despite rejecting its application, Mr Justice Stanley Burnton gave Greenpeace permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal, saying it was possible the higher court would disagree with him.
And he indicated any appeal should be heard as a matter of urgency, before the season for sea bass fishing by the practice of "pair" trawling - which causes the high number of dolphin deaths - begins in February. He also refused to order Greenpeace to pay the Government's costs, saying that the case raised issues of "real importance". Greenpeace said the ruling had exposed the Government's ban on pair trawling within a 12-mile limit as "a hollow political gesture". The issue of dolphin deaths in the English Channel is seen by environmental campaigners as a crucial test of how countries balance the interests of commercial fishing and protected species.
Pair trawling, largely by French fishing vessels, has increased as demand has risen for sea bass, which gather in the Channel to spawn in the early spring. The dolphins, which feed on smaller fish, get caught in the vast nets and campaigners said hundreds die this way each season
Greenpeace was seeking a judicial review of the Government's ban, announced a year ago by Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw. Its lawyers argued that very little pair trawling took place within the limit and that the ban only has the effect of forcing the trawlers further into the areas where dolphins are more numerous. It said the Government should extend the limit to the mid-point of the Channel and should campaign in Europe for a total ban.
Mr Bradshaw said later that he was "delighted" that the court had rejected Greenpeace's action in full.
He said: "No country has done more than the UK under this Government to protect small cetaceans."
Willie Mackenzie, Greenpeace's oceans campaigner, said: "The Government has the power to protect dolphins in half the English Channel, but instead they've been hiding behind meaningless conservation gestures and putting fishermen before dolphin populations."Reuse content