Growth, biomass and production of two small barbs (Barbus humilis and Barbus tanapelagius) and their role in the food web of Lake Tana were investigated. From length–frequency distribution of trawl monitoring surveys growth coefficient, Φ′ values were estimated at 3.71–4.17 for B. humilis and 3.70–4.14 for B. tanapelagius, respectively. Values for B. humilis were confirmed in pond experiments. Mean biomass of the small barbs was 13.3 kg fresh wt ha−1, with B. humilis being most abundant in the littoral and sub-littoral zones, whereas B. tanapelagius was most abundant in the sub-littoral and pelagic zones. The two small barbs had a production of 53 kg fresh wt ha−1 year−1. Although their P/B ratios of about 4.0 were relatively high for small cyprinids, both their biomass and production were low in comparison with other small fish taxa in other tropical lakes. Of the zooplankton production only about 29% was consumed by the small barbs. However, they did not utilize calanoid copepods, which were responsible for approximately 57% of the zooplankton production and it is likely that small barb production was food limited during certain periods of the year. Piscivorous labeobarbs consumed about 56% of the small barbs production annually, but additionally, Clarias gariepinus, and many bird species were also preying on them. Therefore, limitation of Barbus production by predation during certain periods in the year cannot be excluded.